Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Directed by Ron Howard
Starring: Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon, and narrated by Anthony Hopkins.
MPAA Rating: PG for some crude humor.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
November 20, 2000

Let me say right now that I don't appreciate the title Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. How about some more appropriate titles: Ron Howard's Insane Ego Trip, or How Jim Carrey Destroyed My Childhood Memories, or even Dr. Seuss' Worst Nightmare. For, you see, to call this film the work of the great Theodor "Dr." Seuss Geisel is to pass the blame to an innocent dead man, and corrupt the memory of one of his masterpieces.

You know the story either from reading the book every year since 1957, or from watching the wonderful Chuck Jones cartoon that has played on television every year since 1966. Better yet, most people are familiar with both holiday classics which exemplify the incredible imagination and wit of Dr. Seuss. To read the original book to a child takes about ten minutes. The cartoon was padded out to 25 minutes by adding some musical numbers and physical comedy. Now, Ron Howard has made it into a feature film with a massive budget, and high-priced star Jim Carrey to play the title character.

Just in case you have been in a cave for the last 40+ years, here's the basic story. The citizens of Whoville (the Whos) liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. Sickened by the outlandish celebration, the Grinch decides to keep Christmas from coming by stealing all of the Whos' physical trappings. He dresses up as Santa Claus, takes their Christmas trees, decorations, and presents, and brings them to the top of a cliff. He listens for cries of agony from below, but he hears only happy celebration. He learns that Christmas was not about the commerciality, and decides to join the Whos for the holiday.

To make a feature film out of this story, Howard subjects the audience to a full hour of back-story. Apparently, today's audience can't be content with tight shoes and a shrunken heart for character motivation. I don't even want to talk about this part of the film in any particular way. Let's just say that it was totally unnecessary, and it took all the resolve I could muster to sit through it.

All people really care about seeing is the final act of the film, which is mostly a live-action re-enactment of the Chuck Jones cartoon, complete with the songs composed by Albert Hague. My criticism of this part applies to the whole film. To the film's credit, it was obviously made with a great deal of care and attention to detail. It looks unbelievably expensive, as you can tell from the ads. The problem is that it's overkill. Instead of transporting the audience to a Seussian world, the film looks very much like it was shot on a set. It has a very cold, very technical feel. Like too many big-budget films, the images on the screen distract from themselves.

If the problems were only technical, I could still forgive the film's existence. The heart of Seuss is lost within the characters as well. Howard had attracted some incredible talent, but he subsequently wasted it all on the screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (Chuck Jones was lucky enough to have Seuss to write his own screenplay and song lyrics). Darling little Taylor Momsen, who plays Cindy Lou-Who, doesn't know how bad it was. Bill Irwin, who played her father, certainly did. He is one of the most gifted physical comedians in the world, and he had little to do other than play a conventional Daddy role.

Of course, there is another great physical comedian in this film. Carrey's Grinch is an odd concoction. Like Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man, he had to endure an awkward costume that took hours to put on before every shoot. He was also left to make the Grinch his own. That is, he made the Grinch into Jim Carrey. I guess he did this so that you could recognize him under that green suit. The Grinch is now a hyperactive prankster, and not a sly cynic, as Boris Karloff read it for the cartoon.

In short, the filmmakers destroyed everything that is wonderful about the Grinch. The only consolation is that this version will be hopelessly dated in the near future, and will be quickly forgotten. Chuck Jones is now 88, and Geisel passed away nine years ago, but their versions will live on forever.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) -- VHS
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) -- DVD Full Screen Pan&Scan
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) -- DVD Widescreen
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a story by Dr. Seuss -- Hardcover
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (Deluxe Edition), a story by Dr. Seuss -- Hardcover
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a story by Dr. Seuss -- Audio Cassette
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a screenplay novelization by Louise Gikow -- Paperback
How the Grinch Stole Hollywood: The Making of the Movie, by Andy Lipschultz -- Paperback
How the Grinch Stole Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan